Let’s talk about making our own hand sanitizer…

Honestly, I’ve been putting this off as it seems there’s a lot of emotion around this topic, and it’s been a bizarre month with a lot of vitriol sent my way and I really don’t have the energy to read any more negativity, so I thought it best to leave it. Then someone wrote a great post on this topic, and I had to share. 

If you’re thinking about making hand sanitizers, you might want to check out the Facebook page of Unicorn Chemist – the mighty Tammy Lisi, chemist extraordinaire – who has shared a Facebook post about making hand sanitizers that might interest you.

We don’t make sunscreen because it’s a drug that requires extensive testing to prove it works as well as a drug identification number before it can be sold. And we can’t make hand sanitizer because it’s a drug that requires extensive testing to prove it works as well as a drug identification number before it can be sold.

I joked about writing an e-book called How to make hand sanitizer, and all it would say is DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T.

I’m not Walter White – I don’t make drugs. And I really don’t look good in a pork pie hat.

Drugs are products that are proven to work in some way – they protect you from the sun, they make headaches go away, they kill germs – and they need to be proven to work that way. You can’t take an ingredient that should do something – like alcohol, which can kill microbes – use it in any product at any concentration and claim it works to kill microbes without testing.

The FTC is cracking down on those who would make claims during a pandemic. This is a very serious time, and making a drug that doesn’t work is unethical and immoral. I know there’s money to be made in creating a hand sanitizer…

The terrible recipe making the rounds

I’m seeing a recipe going around that’s 2/3 cup alcohol, 1/3 cup aloe vera with up to 10 ml tea tree oil, and I can’t stress enough – DO NOT MAKE THIS! This isn’t from the CDC or other group – it’s from some wellness mama type who doesn’t know enough to know not to use volume to create products. They’ve chosen aloe vera gel because it will make the product gelled; the aloe vera does nothing. And I’ve seen it suggested repeatedly to use vodka in the formula.

A hand sanitizer has to have 60% alcohol or more. Let’s do some math on this wellness-mama type recipe.

If you have 1 cup of vodka that is 40% alcohol, what’s the concentration of alcohol if you use 2/3 cup? It’s 40% – alcohol still makes up 40% vodka.

How much actual alcohol will we have in 2/3 cup vodka? 2/3 cup is 166.7 ml. If 40% of that liquid was alcohol, we’d have 66.7 ml alcohol in 2/3 cup vodka.

I’m making a lot of assumptions about the volume of alcohol and I’m working with the idea that 1 gram of vodka or alcohol = 1 ml liquid. This isn’t true, but I don’t want to add more math to this equation. It does, however, show the dangers of using volume instead weight for making products. 

If you dilute 2/3 cup alcohol with 1/3 cup aloe vera gel for a total of 1 cup of “hand sanitizer”, how much alcohol do you have in the “hand sanitizer”?

1/3 cup aloe vera gel (83.3 m)l + 2/3 cup vodka (166.7 ml) = 250 ml

So when we combine the two, we have 1 cup aloe vera gel/alcohol. If we have 66.7 ml alcohol in this recipe it works out to 26.88% alcohol in the formula, far far below the 60% required to be a hand sanitizer. This product simply doesn’t work in that capacity. 

There is no way to make an alcohol like vodka with a concentration of 40% magically have 60% as it’s simply not possible. You’d have to use another alcohol with a percentage higher than 60% to make the math work. 

Having said that, using another alcohol – like 99% active isopropyl alcohol – doesn’t make this recipe work. Even though you’ll have more alcohol – 65.7%, which is theoretically in the suggested alcohol range – you still don’t know if it works as a sanitizer.

As an aside to all of this, the aloe vera gel will lose its viscosity and break down as not all gels can handle alcohol and very few can handle that much and still stay lovely and gooey.

Why don’t formulators and chemists share formulas that we know will work? 

To the person who said this to Unicorn Chemist, “Seem like you are very angry upon business of hand sanitizer. Just provide right formula for hand sanitizer and they will stop. So easy. If you think they don’t have right formula.”

I said this, “I can’t speak for Unicorn Chemist, by I’m exasperated and exhausted by the constant begging for formulas for hand sanitizer.

Point A: We don’t make drugs, we make cosmetics, and we don’t help others make drugs. Anyone who makes an untested hand sanitizer in a time of pandemic should have the suffering and potential deaths of anyone who gets sick on their heads. Point B: “Just provide right formula for hand sanitizer…” Do you work for free? Do you give out formulas for your products to anyone who asks? What an entitled thing to demand from someone. Even if we were to donate formulas to those who begged for and demanded them, see point A.”

Besides, there’s no way for us to know something works without it undergoing all the testing required by law and receiving the appropriate regulatory approvals, like a drug identification number.

If you aren’t already following this account on Facebook, click on here to see the page and enjoy all the chemistry! 

Here are my final thoughts on this topic: I’m in England right now freaking out because I might not be able to get back home for a while because of Covid-19. My biggest nightmare is being away from home without my car, and not being able to get home, which I’m currently living.

My second nightmare is making something that could hurt someone or cause more suffering. If I make a shampoo that’s not so great, the worst you’ll get is a bad hair day. If I make a hand sanitizer that doesn’t work, you could get sick and die.

To those who are making hand sanitizers that haven’t been tested, to those who are making claims about essential oils killing germs, to those who are making probiotic products that will “kill the bad germs” and leave the good germs – please stop.

As Unicorn Chemist said, “Do you really want to test the limits of your liability insurance?”

If huge companies like Purell have been reported and admonished by the FDA for making false claims, you’ll be reported – link to the FDA MedWatch site, link to FTC consumer complaint form. (Can’t find Health Canada at the moment…)

Should you make them just for yourself or your family? There’s a reason the formulators and chemists I know aren’t making hand sanitizer even though we have formulas and all the necessary ingredients – we can’t guarantee it will work without extensive testing.

Before you decide to attack me in some way, let me say this – I’m sharing this because I care about you and your business. I’m not angry or panicked or whatever emotion someone wants to put on me to discredit what I’ve written here. I’m not jealous you’re making money from this – which is a very weird accusation as I could create a cheap and simple formula to share or sell as an e-book or teach as a class as everyone else seems to be doing but would never as that’s beyond unethical. I want you and yours to be safe, your business to be thriving, and our communities to be healthy. 

Feel free to share your thoughts, questions, and comments below!